Fear and loathing in New Jersey. U.S. Senate race featuring governor’s wife at a boiling point.

March 4, 2024

On a chilly Saturday morning last month, a smiling First Lady Tammy Murphy walked into the wood-paneled Portuguese Club of Long Branch, just a few blocks off the beach, where hundreds of Monmouth County Democrats gathered to decide who they’d back for U.S. Senate.

As she glad-handed her way through the packed room, greeting rank-and-file voters, so did her husband, Gov. Phil Murphy, the most powerful politician in New Jersey.

Both the governor and his wife appeared in good spirits as they worked the room. And why not? She was considered the race’s favorite heading into the party’s first nominating convention in a state where such events can make or break candidates. And it was on her home turf. Even though chief opponent U.S. Rep. Andy Kim represents a third of the county, the Murphys have lived not far from the old hall for 25 years.

But a funny thing happened on Tammy Murphy’s way to her coronation as the Democrats’ replacement for indicted U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez in the June primary.

After a secret ballot, Monmouth voters went for Kim, and it wasn’t close. When the results were announced, the room was stunned. And just like that, the mood turned. Murphy walked over to the three-term congressman and shook his hand. Then she quickly left.

Since then, nothing has been the same in what is now considered one of the hottest primaries in the nation.

Julia Sass Rubin, a Rutgers University professor, found in a recent study the county line gave congressional candidates in New Jersey an advantage of up to 38 percentage points.

“When you give a small number of people with that amount of power, you’re opening up for corruption,” Rubin said.

NJ.com, March 4, 2024

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